Cities at Your ServiceSeptember 1, 2013

How CVBs and Convention Centers Are Upping Their Games Across the Country By
September 1, 2013

Cities at Your Service

How CVBs and Convention Centers Are Upping Their Games Across the Country

713_3613115-Sm-420x401Christine “Shimo” Shimasaki, CDME, CMP, managing director of Em­powerMINT for Destination Marketing Association International, would like to clear up a few misperceptions some planners have about working with convention and visitors bureaus.  “Oftentimes, CVBs are stereotyped as being only interested in large meetings,” she says. “There’s also a big misperception that CVBs would just send (leads) to all of their hotels and not qualify them. We, as an industry, are trying to get over those two stereotypes.

“CVBs have really stepped up to be the best first point of contact for planners who are looking to find the right fit for their meeting — .for any size meeting,” she continues. “When you look at what’s going on in the industry, a lot of RFPs are hitting the hotels. You hear a lot about that. Technology provides a real opportunity for efficiency, but then sometimes technology doesn’t really provide us what we want. The net effect of that convenience is that hotels have seen this huge increase in the number of RFPs hitting their desks, and so that is kind of providing a response problem. So unless planners have their RFP well-articulated and well-targeted, they may not get to the top of the priority list at the hotel level.”

That, she explains, is one area in which seeking the advice of a local expert can be of value. “We need to target the number of hotels or the hotels which the RFP should be sent to. But if the planner is not knowledgeable about a particular destination, not knowing the lay of the land of that destination can be a disadvantage, so we encourage a conversation to occur prior to sending out a full RFP.

“CVBs have really stepped up to be the best first point of contact for planners who are looking to find the right fit for their meeting — for any size meeting.”

— Christine Shimasaki, CDME, CMP, Managing Director, EmpowerMINT, Destination Marketing Association International, Washington, DC

“That conversation could occur with their own partners that they may have, whether it’s a third party or our local experts who can give them advice and recommendations based upon what they’re looking for,” Shimasaki notes. “I did a survey recently of our CVB sales professionals, and eight out of 10 sales professionals are consultative in nature. That’s where they really feel their role is. They provide planners with recommendations and advice.”

She says that CVB representatives have the advantage of being locals who know their city. For example, airport transfer times can be a key issue when planning a meeting. “When you look at (hotel) literature, everything is ‘conveniently located’ and everything is ‘20 minutes away,’ ” she laughs, adding that it takes someone with local knowledge to understand what the actual travel times are at all times of the day. She says that a CVB representative can use their insider’s knowledge to help planners narrow down their hotel choices based on specific criteria.

When asked if there is a size of meeting that would be too small for a CVB to handle, she responded, “Probably less than 10 rooms.” That certainly dispels the notion of CVBs only being interested in large meetings.

The Art of the RFP

Shimasaki says that another key to success is to have a well-written RFP. She recommends the Convention Industry Council’s newly revised APEX RFP workbook. “I happen to be part of that APEX committee,” she explains. “We went through it, and now there are templates for the single hotel meeting versus the citywide meeting. There are also templates for your DMC, your AV company, as well as general service contractors.”

She says that it’s also important for planners to understand the pluses and minuses of their meeting as they begin the negotiation process. “Not all meetings are created equal,” she notes. She says that factors to consider include arrival and departure patterns and seasonality (for example, you can usually get a great deal in Minneapolis in the winter) and it helps if the group can be flexible on dates within one or two weeks.
Shimasaki added that the proven track record of the group is also important, and that yes, CVBs and hotels do exchange information about groups’ histories on a regular basis. “If you’re a hotel, at the end of the day, it’s about risk, so hotels need some assurances and history just like a credit report for financial institutions.

“The final factor, of course, is their total revenue. If you’re a citywide, we’re going to want to understand what your economic impact is. And that’s a highly localized conversation. Planners think that if they get an economic impact number, then they can take that number with them from destination to destination and use it to articulate the value of their meeting. That’s highly erroneous, because economic impact, as far as we’re concerned, is about net new spending to the destination.”

She explained why economic impact differs among cities. “Taxes differ from destination to destination, payroll taxes are different, the cost of living is different, and the cost of a meal is different. You can’t take your economic impact with you from year to year.”

Marketing Support

The services that CVBs offer extend far beyond the booking date of a meeting. Some, for example, offer customized websites and/or apps for events. “They’re there for marketing support and public relations support,” Shimasaki explains. “CVBs have access to local media, and they have relationships built with those local media. They can connect you with local political figures in the destination that are related to the topic of the meeting or local industries related to it. “

Staying on the Move With CVBs

Cindy Wilhelm, executive assistant to the CEO and special events coordinator for Two Men and a Truck International Inc., a franchise moving company with operations in 36 states, plans an annual conference for approximately 400 attendees. The event moves to a different city each year, so she relies on CVBs for support and advice.

As Wilhelm begins the planning process, she works with a third-party planning firm to narrow down the choices. “Then we usually go and tour the properties, and that’s when the CVBs help us out so much,” she says. “Usually, we fly into the town, and the CVB is always there picking us up, which we appreciate. They take us to the hotels, make sure we’re all checked in. We always have a golf outing, so they help us with the golf courses that are nearby. They usually take us to the golf course. We usually plan a tour, and the CVB helps us with tour options, and they also take us to the tour locations to check them out. They always take us to dinner; always take us to lunch.”

She also finds the CVBs’ local knowledge to be invaluable in other ways. “We have a keynote speaker, and we try to use a local person so they always have names for us. We prefer to use in-town entertainment for our awards night, so they always help us with that.” Last year, she worked with Visit Jacksonville for her event and was very pleased with the results. “They did (all the things I mentioned) plus more.” Her next event will take place in Las Vegas. “I’ve been there twice for a site visit, and we met with the CVB both times. They’ve been very easy to work with, as well.

“We’ve even had CVBs offer concessions to us to come to their town,” she adds. “Say, for instance, if we’re in a site that doesn’t really have a golf course nearby, and we’re going to hire buses for golf, they will offer to compensate, to give us so many dollars per person to offset the cost of the buses. We’ve probably had that two or three times in the 10 years that I’ve been doing this.”

Here’s an update of what’s new at CVBs and convention centers around the country:

There’s a lot going on in Music City, not the least of which is the grand opening in May of the 1.2-million-sf Music City Center, which offers 350,000 sf of exhibit space and the largest Grand Ballroom in the state. “The city has undergone a tremendous metamorphosis, all the while retaining its unique character and authenticity, which is really not easy to do,” explains Butch Spyridon, president of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. “Our new convention center, we believe, is the next generation of buildings in this country. Its finishes are top of the line, its functionality is second to none, and it is beautiful inside and out. In order to make that work, we knew we needed to improve the dining alternatives and options in the city, and we have done that to the point where Bon Appétit referred to us as ‘the coolest, tastiest city in the South.’ It’s a nice accolade. And then, of course, you’ve got to have the right hotel package, and the new Omni opens September 30th. Adjacent to it is a new Hyatt Place, which will open in January, and all of the downtown hotels are undergoing major renovations to the tune of $15–$25 million each. So the Hilton, the Renaissance, the Loews, DoubleTree, Sheraton, everybody is spit-shining. There’s nothing like a little bit of peer pressure.

“We have built a great urban package that really the city deserves,” he continues. “It’s on par with what Opryland offers under one roof. So now we have a great resort, all-encompassing in Gaylord Opryland, and we have the newest, most state-of-the-art urban convention package.”

Spyridon has been pleased with the response to the new Music City Center. “We have had great success pre-selling the building before it opened. Groups of all types — corporate, association, medical education, you name it, the response has been overwhelming. The average size group in the new building is 6,000 people, so that’s a step up for us. The city is really on a tremendous positive roll.

“As we’re growing and freshening, we’re making sure we haven’t forgotten our Southern hospitality roots, how important music is to the city and the brand,” he states. “We offer free music in this city 365 days a year, and that’s in downtown clubs, and then we have a number of annual festivals which also offer free music. The media attention that Nashville has garnered over the last year from The New York Times to Bon Appétit to the Rolling Stone to GQ has all put Nashville at the top of the list of places to visit. I think your readers should come on (over to Nashville).”

San Jose

The meetings-related excitement in California’s third-largest city revolves around the San Jose Convention Center’s $130 million renovation project, which is expected to be unveiled in September, on time and under budget. The project will add 125,000 sf of meeting space to the convention center’s existing 425,000 sf. Some features include a large balcony, floor-to-ceiling windows and an amphitheater.

Team San Jose, the city’s highly regarded convention and visitors bureau, has been a key driver for many planners who have used the destination in recent years. Team San Jose provides comprehensive, fully integrated support services in housing, event services, food and beverage, permitting, marketing support and technical consultation.

Earlier this year, Team San Jose introduced a unique online tool to aid in the planning process. Located at, the new 3-D interactive Web platform enables planners to take virtual tours of the city’s downtown area, newly expanded San Jose McEnery Convention Center, Mineta San Jose International Airport, hotels and attractions.

Team San Jose is also offering up to three days free convention center rental for bookings made through 2014. The offer includes a number of amenities, including a free move-in/move-out day, free wireless in public areas, housing registration for groups using three hotels or more and discounted parking.


In January, The Anaheim Convention center opened its Grand Plaza, a 100,000-sf multiuse area for outdoor events. Planners considering the venue will want to check out “Grand Plazaville,” an interactive app that allows them to “drag and drop” different setups for the venue to see what they might look like.


The Albuquerque Convention Center recently wrapped up the first phase of its $20 million renewal project. It included renovation of the West Building’s three upper-level ballrooms and lower-level kitchen. Phase two, which will include upgrades to the center’s interior, is scheduled to begin in the fall with a projected completion time frame of summer 2014.


Impressive accolades just keep piling up for Orlando as a meetings mecca. This popular Central Florida destination received the No. 1 ranking on Cvent’s recently released list of the “Top 50 Meeting Destinations in the United States” for 2013, followed by Chicago and Las Vegas. The ranking was based on the past year’s booking data.

Also, in 2012, Orlando hosted the second largest number of trade shows on the Trade Show News Network’s list of “Top 250 Trade Shows.”

The OCCC has just begun a five-year, $187 million capital improvements project. The West Building is undergoing a major renovation, which includes aesthetic enhancements, life safety update, and retrofitting to provide flexible space for groups. And new furniture groupings and an upgraded system for wireless communications are designed to enhance both face-to-face and device-to-device connectivity. The OCCC is the second largest convention facility in America, and each year attracts more than 200 events, bringing in approximately 1.4 million attendees. The convention center was recently nominated as the No. 1 convention center in the U.S. by Business Review USA. In other convention center news, the OCCC has become the third convention center in the world to be certified to the new international sustainability standards developed by the American Society for Testing and Materials.

Visit Orlando’s 2013–2014 Orlando Creative Meeting Professionals Guide is now available for downloading at under the “Orlando Toolkit” tab.

San Francisco

The San Francisco Travel Association (SFTA) reports that lawmakers have approved the creation of the Moscone Expansion District. The new entity will provide the majority of the funding for an estimated $500 million expansion of the Moscone Center, which will add 200,000 sf of underground and above-ground exhibition space. Construction is scheduled to begin in late 2014. The SFTA also announced that Super Bowl 50 will be held in the San Francisco Bay area in 2016.

New Orleans

The renovation of the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center (NOMCC), which reconfigured an existing hall into the new 60,000-sf, column-free Great Hall with a grand entryway, has won an award from the Structural Engineering Association of Kansas and Missouri. Offering 1.1 million sf of contiguous exhibit space, the NOMCC is the sixth largest convention center in the nation. The renovation project also added 25,400 sf of multiuse prefunction space, a 4,660-sf junior ballroom, a 3,420-sf rooftop terrace, a 5,700-sf executive club lounge and a 980-sf indoor balcony.


Plans are also underway to expand the Miami Beach Convention Center. A developer has been chosen for the $600 million project, which will include outdoor function areas, movable walls and a concourse that will provide flexible event space. A referendum for the project is slated to go before voters in November.

Oklahoma City

The words “within walking distance” are music to many planners’ ears, and Oklahoma City’s Cox Convention Cen­ter is just steps away from seven hotels and the city’s Bricktown Entertainment District, a former warehouse area that has been converted into restaurants and nightlife venues fronting the Bricktown Canal. Four additional hotels are under construction. The convention center, which connects to the Renaissance Oklahoma City Convention Cen­ter Hotel via skybridge, contains 100,000 sf of exhibit space, a 25,000-sf ballroom, 21 meeting rooms with a total of 27, 500 sf, and a 15,000-seat arena.

Planning is in the works for a new $252 million downtown convention center, with a projected completion date of 2018.

Washington, DC

Construction has begun on the 1,175-room Washington Marriott Marquis, which will be connected via underground concourse to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. The new hotel, which will become DC’s largest, will contain more than 105,000 sf of meeting space including a 30,000-sf ballroom; a grand lobby; and a 5,200-sf rooftop terrace. The hotel is scheduled to open in the spring of 2014. The historic Samuel Gompers AFL-CIO headquarters, known as the “Plumbers Building,” will be incorporated into the property and used as a separate guest tower.

Las Vegas

The Las Vegas Conven­tion and Visitors Authority has announced plans to create the Las Vegas Global Business District, a $2.5 billion phased project that will include a major renovation and expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center and creation of a convention district campus. Other phases include the creation of a dedicated World Trade Center facility and a centralized transportation hub. A construction schedule has not yet been announced.

In the meantime, the Las Vegas Convention Center recently completed $20 million in enhancements including a newly painted exterior and interior, new carpet, upgraded lighting and the opening of the American Express Open Business Lounge inside the main entrance.


The new Cleveland Convention Center recently opened in the city’s downtown area on the shores of Lake Erie. The unique facility, which was built below grade and topped with a “green” roof, contains 225,000 sf of Class A exhibit space, 35 meeting rooms, 17 truck bays and a 32,000-sf, column-free ballroom offering lakefront views. The new center is located adjacent to the new 235,000-sf Global Center for Health Innovation, opening in October, that features four themed floors dedicated to the future of health and healthcare and is the only facility of its kind in the world.

San Antonio

The $325 million transformation of San Antonio’s Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center is moving forward with the release of schematic design plans and renderings. Set for completion during the spring of 2016, plans call for approximately 835,000 gross sf of new construction and approximately 78,000 sf of renovation to existing spaces. The center remains operational, with no disruptions to events and customers.
Free Advice? Priceless

Shimasaki emphasizes the value of working with CVBs. “It’s about not going it alone. Some planners do not understand why CVBs are free. In their minds, there must be a catch. What we like to say is that our services aren’t free, but they’re free to planners. Our services are already paid for by occupancy taxes and assessments.”

Wilhelm is a big fan of CVBs. “They help us with everything. It is really amazing when I go to any kind of meeting planning event and I’m talking to other meeting planners, and they don’t use the CVBs — I tell them all the things they do for us. I think they’re the best things on this Earth.” C&IT

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